Building Material as Local as Your Own Backyard
Rick and Cindy Siewert crossed the “locavore” appeal of a crop harvested nearby with a kind of environmental offset and arrived at what seems the perfect product for the times: “urban lumber.”
They say they were just being sentimental about an ash tree.
The ash in their south Minneapolis yard had to come down. Given the memories attached to it, they wanted it to live on in their home. (It did live on, but as someone else’s furniture). With that seed of an idea, plus their know-how and existing business—Rick is a cabinetmaker and runs Siewert Cabinet and Fixture Manufacturing in Minneapolis, a maker of paneling, millwork, casework, and reception desks for offices and retailers—a new business was formed.
Their side venture, Wood from the ’Hood, takes trees harvested by Bratt Tree Company and other local contractors and turns them into flooring, millwork, and custom furniture. Tree owners, whether homeowners or municipalities, designate their wood for this use. And while some do it because of an emotional tug, others, including the Three Rivers Park District, like the green points that it earns them or the offsetting of destruction that it represents.
The park district had to clear a stand of trees to build a visitor center for the recently completed Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, and hired Wood from the ’Hood to process the oaks for paneling for the center’s interior. In the new Hiawatha Maintenance Facility that RSP Architects is designing for the City of Minneapolis, interior treatments from Wood from the ’Hood will help the project earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Natural Built Home, a supplier of green building materials in South Minneapolis, carries Wood from the ’Hood flooring, including some made from Dutch elm–diseased trees. The disease doesn’t harm the wood, which is comparable to American cherry in hardness and durability.
Trees have come from around the metro area, but most have come from within five miles of the Siewerts’ plant, Rick says. “We keep track of it by zip code.”
They tag their products that way, too. Shoppers at Mother Earth Gardens, Corazon, Linden Hills Natural Home, Seward Co-op, and other retailers have been snapping up Wood from the ’Hood picture frames and cutting boards—often hunting for their own zip code on the shelves.
The zip codes “give people a sense of ownership,” says the Siewerts’ marketing manager Jon Buck. “A lot of places are within 500 miles and ‘local.’ But that’s not as local as what we’re trying to do.”